Emergency Blood Recipient Dan Jensen's Long Climb Back to the Pitching Mound Inspires His Former Team during Visit to Dayton CBC
When the Cincinnati Reds called to tell Dan Jensen they were drafting him to play professional baseball he called it "a dream come true." That's not a phrase he uses lightly. After all, he grew up in Centerville and the Reds were his dream team. But Dan also remembers waking from his dreams to a living nightmare, unable to speak, choking on his own blood, and trying to call for help.
The journey from that night to a promising career as a pro athlete is so improbable Dan honors it as a special gift. You can see his mission in the Youtube video he made, imploring his former teammates at Sinclair Community College to donate blood, the gift that saved his life. It was again his mission on a recent visit home when he took time out to accompany the Sinclair baseball team to the downtown Dayton Community Blood Center (CBC) to give a pep talk, and to donate.
Coming out of Centerville High School in 2007 Dan had only one strong offer to play college baseball, and that was from first-year Sinclair Coach Steve Dintaman. That was the beginning of a friendship that has grown beyond baseball.
Right after graduation Dan went into the hospital for a routine tonsillectomy. He was 17, older than the average age for the procedure but not unusual. The surgery was not routine. His carotid artery was nicked during the procedure. It seemed to be healing, but days later when the scabs fell off and the artery expanded it began to bleed.
That led to Dan's first emergency surgery, a procedure to block the damage artery on his left side. Dan was told that he lost 65 percent of his blood volume during the ordeal. He finally returned home, grateful to have survived a major threat to his life. It worked for only four days. The block became dislodged and he started bleeding again.
"I thought, wow, after that first time, I was pretty lucky," recalled Dan. "Then it happened again. I was sleeping downstairs when it happened. I couldn't yell – blood was filling up my mouth. All I could think of to do was hit my phone – send – send – send – to my dad."
His parents were asleep upstairs in their bedroom. Dan says it was between 3 and 4 a.m. His life depended on his dad hearing that cell phone ring.
"My dad had the phone next to him," says Dan. "He owns a car wash, things happen and he gets calls at night, so he's used to it. The call woke him up and he got me to the hospital. If he hadn't woken up I would have died."
This time the surgery – and the loss of blood – was more extreme. Dan says the hospital replaced 75 percent of his blood volume. He learned later than the surgeons had used a silk ribbon to permanently tie-off his left carotid artery. He was told his body would adapt to having only one functioning artery, with his right carotid growing larger to handle the blood flow of two.
When he speaks of that night the only visual reminder is the long, eight-inch scar etched down the left side of his neck. He has come a long way from that weakened 17 year old boy in intensive care who twice stood on death's doorstep. But if Dan had learned anything from baseball it was this: it takes three strikes to get a batter out, and his best pitch was yet to come.
"I went from 225 pounds down to 165 after I got out of ICU," Dan remembers. "I needed a stool to take a shower. I couldn't stand for that long."
But his coach Steve Dintaman wasn't giving up on him. He was inspired to help Dan and to help others in need of blood donations.
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